In the 2006 film The Ultimate Gift, spoiled young Jason Stevens expects a large inheritance from his eccentric grandfather. But when the man passes away, his will stipulates that Jason will get the money only after he accomplishes 12 unusual, demanding tasks. Each is designed to change the way the young man views wealth, human relationships, and the meaning of life.
You’re not likely to demand that kind of quest from your heirs. These days, though, it’s not unusual to include provisions in a will or estate plan that go beyond financial wealth and relate to personal or social values. It may be possible to encourage your children or grandchildren to continue a family tradition of philanthropy, for example, or to understand the important role your ethnic heritage has played in your life.
But it’s tough to pass along your values if your heirs don’t know who you really are. Whereas we once routinely gained wisdom and perspective from our elders, that opportunity often gets lost in the shuffle of fast-paced contemporary life. Yet young people still long to comprehend what their families stand for and to feel a sense of belonging and purpose.
Family storytelling is the most natural and direct means of imparting essential elements of your identity. Around the family table, young people can share in the evolution of your attitudes, traditions, and values. When were you happiest? How did you first experience kindness, self-sacrifice, ambition, and generosity? What were the things that mattered to you as a young person, and how have your views changed? What were the turning points in your life, and what do you wish you’d done differently? Though you may worry young people will be bored by your stories, chances are they’ll be engaged, especially when the conversation involves them, too. Listening carefully as they relate their own experiences can help you gauge their values and ambitions.
Of course, just helping your heirs get to know you doesn’t ensure they’ll carry on your passions. Yet there are ways to expose your children and grandchildren to organizations that matter to you, and to get them involved in your cherished causes. You can take them along when you attend meetings and events, and make sure they connect with key people. Your estate plan can help too:
Discussions with your family can form the foundation of a values-based blueprint. We can help you start these conversations and work with you and your attorneys to create an estate plan that incorporates your goals.
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